Inappropriate Colloquialisms: We Explain What They Mean

One thing about language is that it gets richer and richer as time goes on. The words we use evolve and the general vocabulary becomes diverse.

Colloquialisms are one of the main catalysts of this evolution and authors take advantage of these instruments to give their stories a nip of genuineness and personality.

It’s easy to use colloquialisms to subtly identify a character or community in a story because colloquialisms are a characteristic of a historical era, specific language, or a geographic region, making them unique to a particular region or time.

For a writer, things like these are important because they can bail you out in instances where you could have ‘told instead of showing.’

However, there are times when colloquialisms are inappropriate, and you need to know them so as not to fall victim to these ‘inappropriate colloquialisms.’

Let’s get in-depth and everything there’s to know about inappropriate colloquialisms.

inappropriate colloquialisms we explain what they mean

What Is Colloquialism?

Colloquialism or colloquial expression refers to a word or expression that is part of the informal style of a people in a particular context.

The word “colloquialism” is derived from the Latin colloquium, which translates to a “conference” or “conversation.”

Colloquialisms are typically used in a geographic region, and they often form a part of the vocabulary that is characteristic of a specific group of people or region.

Colloquialisms can be words, phrases, or aphorisms that are part of the local dialect. For natives, using colloquialisms comes naturally but for others, there’s some level of learning involved for them to use colloquialisms of a particular region effortlessly.

The Purpose of Colloquialism in Literature

Primarily, we use colloquial expressions to make a passage more casual and sprinkle some authenticity on the story’s setting.

Apart from that, Colloquialisms can also be used to serve other purposes such as:

Dialogue: Seasoned writers use dialogue to help with storytelling—and dialogue is less draggy. The use of colloquial dialogue adds casualness and makes the story more relatable.

Setting: Colloquialisms can be used to help the writer set up and strengthen the time and place of a story.

Characters: Colloquialisms can also be used to give a character’s backstory more flesh. They can be used to tell the reader more about the character’s age, etiquette, and socioeconomic background.

What are the Differences between Colloquialism, Slang, and Jargon

differences between colloquialism, slang, and jargon

These are different types of informal language, and they’re all characteristic languages of a particular group.

The main difference between colloquialisms and slang is that the former is used by people within a geographic region and the latter is a characteristic of certain groups (not necessarily in the same geographical region).

Slang is developed by a particular culture or social group, and once it’s accepted by people in that group, it’s widely used. The words that make up the slang vocabulary are newly formed, abbreviated, or modified, or with meanings that are different from their original meanings.

On the other hand, jargon is a technical language that has phrases and idioms used within a given profession or industry. Unlike colloquialism and slang, jargon is used in formal writing. For example, if you’re writing a formal document covering high-tech topics, you’re probably going to litter it with some technobabble.

Sometimes, jargon and slang become colloquialisms when they are used in alien subgroups frequently.

What is Inappropriate Colloquialism?

Colloquialism is fine as long as it doesn’t swim outside its pond—things like ‘blimey!’ ‘Riding shotgun,’ or ‘poppycock’ are plainly inappropriate and are not tolerated in formal writing.

Using colloquialisms in formal writing is usually viewed as unprofessional or inappropriate—using Informal language stinks of imprecision is damning as far as first impressions are concerned.

Sometimes, colloquialism is just inappropriate because it’s vulgar—take, for example, the word ‘Crinkum-crankum,’ colloquialism which used to mean vagina. I would not use this word anywhere except under special circumstances and within the bounds of quotation marks.

In other circumstances, colloquialism is inappropriate if it’s been used in such a way that the audience is unable to understand the things being said or written.

Since colloquialisms are usually confined to a geographical area, colloquialism with non-literal meanings is also inappropriate because it is likely to be misunderstood if the audience isn’t from the same geographic area as the writer or speaker.

Colloquialisms aren’t always inappropriate, but they’re inappropriate in most forms of writing, to a distinctly greater extent when you’re trying to cover a formal topic or writing an official document.

Some scenarios require you to throw all your colloquialism out of your vocabulary and speak or write formally. These are some of those scenarios:

  • Academic writing
  • Financial reports
  • Official government documents
  • Job applications
  • Interviews
  • Report Writing
  • Official Educational Content
speak or write formally on these scenarios

10 Examples of Inappropriate Colloquialisms

Below are some examples of inappropriate colloquialisms you should avoid in your writing or formal speech. By the way, any form of colloquial language is inappropriate in formal writing.

1. Biz

This means “an industry, a person’s or people’s occupation or line of work.” However, it is contextual because it’d be okay for someone to use the word “showbiz” in a newspaper article, but it’d be inappropriate in a job application.

Example: “You should hire me because I’m a motivated and hardworking individual, and I’m about my biz.”

2. Gonna

“Gonna” is a contraction of the words “going to” and it is colloquialism because it’s not used widely throughout English-speaking populations.

Example: “I’m gonna come back later when it stops raining.”

3. Wanna

Same as “Gonna” and it’s a contraction of the words “want to” and it’s also not used widely throughout English-speaking populations.

Example: “I wanna be on the same level with you before we start this long-term thing.”

4. Bloody

This is considered profane in British dialects of English, but it’s just a simple adjective in other dialects. For example, you could use the word “bloody” as an adjective in American English, but it would seem so profane when used in British English.

Example: “You’re such a bloody idiot!”

5. Buzz off

“buzz off, mate!”

‘Buzz off’ means ‘to go away or leave immediately’ and it has a couple of cousins, namely: “beat it,” “bug off,” “begone,” “leg it,” “scram,” “take a hike,” and “shove off” among others.

Example: “Buzz off, mate!”

6. Shin

Means to “climb quickly up using hands to grip and lift up.”

Example: “She shinned up the tree and hid in his treehouse”

7. Wicked

In formal English, ‘wicked’ means something or someone evil, unrighteous, morally inappropriate, or something close to those words.

But in other informal usages, it implies that something is excellent or brilliant. In an informal conversation, this would be a normal adjective in regions like England and Jamaica.

Example: “That dribbling move was wicked!”

8. Helluva

Helluva means “hell of a” and is used as an intensifier or to indicate that something is notable or big.

Example: “It was one helluva football match.”

9. Ain’t

it ain't easy
Graphic art with a written message. (Image credit: “It Ain’t Easy” by Seth Anderson on Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Regularly used in informal conversations in the US, ‘ain’t’ means “am not,” “has not,” “have not,” “is not,” and “are not.”

It has also become a common member of vocabulary used in urban youth culture especially associated with rap music.

Example: “It ain’t my fault that you lost your bet.”

10. Soda

In some regions of the US, a ‘Soda’ is any sweet drink containing carbonated water and flavoring—simple as that.

But if you move out of the US and try to buy this type of drink using the “soda,” they will—probably—give you something else.

In other areas, this same drink is known by the following names: “pop,” “soft drink,” and “Coke.” Therefore, these ‘other names are also colloquialisms in some parts of the US.

Example: “Can I get a soda, please.”

Wrapping up Inappropriate Colloquialisms

Colloquialisms aren’t always inappropriate; in fact, many successful writers throughout the history of literature have used colloquialisms to their advantage.

Writers have—and still—use colloquial expressions to add personality and authenticity to their work because the colloquial language of the characters reflects their lives. Colloquial language gives the story a time and place and helps create a character’s backstory.

Colloquialisms only become inappropriate when used out of context and used unwisely.

About Jessica Majewski

Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories.

She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.